What California’s Illegal Pot Farmers Think About Legalization

Article by Max Cherney, Vice


After decades of supplying stoners across America with primo weed, outlaw farmers in Northern California are bracing for what now seems almost inevitable: legalization.

The Golden State is set to vote on a Sean Parker–backed initiative to tax and regulate weed this fall, an effort that has raised plenty of cash and appears, at least accordingto most public surveys, to have the popular support needed to pass. Meanwhile, legislators have already transformed the state’s half-baked medical regime into a coherent system, one that’s on track to approach a record $1 billion year in taxable weed sales, according to numbers provided to VICE by California’s Board of Equalization. Big business, along with Silicon Valley–tied venture capital cash, is beginning to pour into the sparsely populated rural region, long renowned for off-the-grid personalities—and of course off-the-charts weed.

It’s tough to say exactly how much pot farmers grow in Northern California, though according to DEA data, about 60 percent of the nation’s illegal weed is seized somewhere in the state. Given estimates of 4,000 to 10,000 farms in Humboldt County alone—out of what the California Growers Association suggests are perhaps 50,000 statewide—it’s fair to say the area known as the Emerald Triangle (Humboldt, Mendocino, and Trinity counties) is producing a significant chunk of America’s bud. And interviews with growers, experts, and activists suggest that even if legalization does pass, outlaw growers will hold out as long as they can.

“Obviously there is a financial incentive to stay in the black market,” one grower who has been in the Triangle for more than three-quarters of his life—and requested anonymity for fear of law enforcement reprisal—told VICE. “Financially, it makes sense to stay in it, if you’re not paying fees, and eradication budgets are stretched so thin. For a lot of people, it’s a numbers game, and a lot of my friends, the people I talk with, are going to stay in it.”

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